• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 3,752 Views, 145 Comments

Darkened Shores - Silver Flare

An adventure that takes the Mane 6 around the world to face the what destroyed the alicorn homeland.

  • ...

03: A Little Vacation

It was way too early in the morning for Spike. He didn’t really care what Twilight was saying or how impatient she sounded. He would have bet every last bit that the sun wasn’t even up yet, and Twilight was already calling for him to get out of bed and help with the packing. He rolled over and buried his head under his pillow. That worked for a minute, and he almost managed to block out the sounds of Twilight moving about and things clanking together before his pillow was magically lifted out of his reach. He mumbled something uncomplimentary about a purple snout and a dustbin, and a moment later felt the queasy, disjointed sensation of being teleported. He found himself slumped over Twilight’s back.

“Bleh. I get it. I’m up.” Spike rubbed his face and gazed around the library. He blinked. “What in Celestia’s name did you do to the place?!?” Nearly everything in their home, including most of the books and scrolls, lay piled in circles of decreasing size, ending at Twilight’s travel bags, a suitcase and a backpack.

Twilight looked as though she hadn’t even tried to sleep. Which she hadn’t. “I began by taking inventory of everything we owned after I tucked you in last night. Then I made a list of everything it would be helpful to have on this trip around the world. However, everything useful would be too much, so I made this chart over here to measure an item’s size and weight and factor that into an item’s usefulness. Then I made a second list which only had the absolute essentials on it. By contrasting the lists using the chart, I was able to pack our bags as efficiently as possible, barring some minor modifications.” She sounded very pleased with herself. She also sounded a bit strained.

Spike wandered over to the packs, lifting up a disc of metal. “So, you snapped the handle off of the frying pan. . . why, exactly?”

“To reduce space and evenly distribute weight between the two of us, factoring in our relative sizes and levels of endurance, as you can see from my third chart over here. Oh, and I’ll use the hollow handle to store sewing needles in case any of the straps on our packs rip.”

Spike buried his face in his claw. “If you say so, Twi’.” He stumbled into the kitchen, presumably to find something to eat, while Twilight double-checked her checklist.

The sun was just starting to bring some color to the eastern sky as Twilight and Spike made their way across Ponyville to the train station. Birds were just beginning to chirp, the air smelled sharp and clean, and it didn’t seem anypony else was awake. It‘s a beautiful time of day, Twilight reflected. Not to mention a beautiful place to live. Princess Celestia had told them all what horrors they might face half of a world away, but it was difficult in that pre-dawn light to imagine any of them being real. So long as she had a home like this and her friends, Twilight figured she didn’t have too much to worry about. Except maybe Spike eating all their rations.

“Hey, do you mind?” Twilight magically closed the flap on her pack before Spike could pull out the bag of oat bars. “The food I’ve packed is for emergencies only. There’s going to be food on the train!”

“Sure Twilight.” Spike leaned in. “And there’s probably going to be food wherever we’re going, too. We can pick up some more.”

Twilight sighed. “I don’t even know where you put it all. You’re like a third my size, but you eat more than I do.”

“What? I’m a growing baby dragon. I need my energy.”

“Really? Because I think you stopped growing about a year ago.”

“That’s a low-blow, Twilight.” Spike shook his head in mock sadness. “And that’s the difference between you and me. I don’t discriminate by metabolism.”

“Do you even know what a metabolism is?”

“Ummmm. . .”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “I don’t think you’ll starve to death between now and dawn.”

“You think, but you don’t know that.”

Twilight sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose with a hoof. “Well, we’re here.”

Spike sat up and looked around. “And we’re the first ones here. Shocking.” He met Twilight’s disapproving glare and lifted an eyebrow. Twilight bucked just enough to dump Spike onto the floor, and then turned to face the ticket counter. A sleepy-looking earth pony was juggling coffee and a doughnut while trying to open the locked door to the office. Twilight walked up behind the mare and magically lifted her breakfast out of her hooves so she could get her keys. The ticket agent smiled gratefully and unlocked the door. When she rolled the counter shutter open, Twilight slid the mug and pastry across the counter.

“Good morning!” Twilight beamed. “We need two tickets, please.”

The ticket agent shook her head tiredly. “You’re awfully chipper for it being so early in the morning.”

Spike’s voice drifted over the counter. “Tell me about it.”

The agent continued. “But your name is Twilight Sparkle, right?” Twilight nodded. “Yup, you’re all paid for. The royal treasury has paid for the entire train, bag checks and meals for the trip. Here’s your tickets.” She slid seven tickets across the counter. “Enjoy the ride.”

“Wow.” Twilight looked from the tickets to the train. “That’s very generous of the Princess.” She glanced down at Spike. “Well, there you go. Celestia’s just offered to feed you for the trip. Well, the first leg of it anyway.”

A voice drifted across the platform. “Twilight, Spike!” Applejack waved. “What’re you two doin’ here so early?” Spike turned a glare at Twilight that clearly said See? Twilight shrugged a bit sheepishly. Applejack made her way over to her friends and set her packs down. “Figured I’d be the first one here by a long shot. Get our tickets in advance and all. But here you are bright and early, Twi’.”

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t think you need to worry about tickets.” Twilight handed one to Applejack. “Here, the Princess has already covered everything. Apparently we’re the only passengers on this train.”

“Well, I’ll be. That’s mighty fine of her.” Applejack stared at the ticket for a moment. “You know, something’s been bothering me ever since Princess Celestia told us her story.” Twilight gave her a questioning look. “It’s just that, well, we heard some real scary things that night. And now we’re going to go and find those scary things and maybe do something about them.” Twilight nodded. Spike glanced between them. “But, thing is, I haven’t felt scared. I should have, I think we should all be scared of what we’re up against. But it just doesn’t seem real at all, you get my meanin’?”

Twilight nodded emphatically. “I was thinking about that just this morning, walking through Ponyville. It’s hard to imagine anything so horrible could even exist when there are places like this in the world.”

Applejack held up the ticket. “Well, knowing that the Princess is paying for our trip, somehow that makes it more real to me. Like, if she’s worried enough to drop hundreds, maybe thousands of bits to bring us somewhere, then maybe I should be worried.” Applejack laughed nervously. “It’s strange to say so out loud, but this ticket is the scariest thing I’ve seen in awhile. That make a lick of sense to you?”

Twilight drew her friend in for a hug. “Of course it does.” Twilight glanced down and saw Spike looking nervous too, his green eyes wide. Twilight scooped him up and into the hug. “But there’s no need to worry just yet. We’re a long, long way from anything bad, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time to worry later. This is just going to be a fun train ride, like a little vacation!”

“Yeah.” Agreed Applejack. “I guess you’re right. I’m not fond of leaving Big Macintosh with all the chores, but there’s no reason not to enjoy the ride, right?” Twilight nodded.

Pinkie Pie arrived next, with bags that were full to bursting. Probably packed with pony party provisions and popcorn. Twilight rolled her eyes a bit at that thought. Rainbow Dash arrived next, swooping in gracefully just as Rarity arrived. Fluttershy arrived last, walking instead of flying. By then the sun was mostly up. “What took you so long, Fluttershy?” Rainbow Dash snorted from the bench she was laying on. “Everypony’s ready to go!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Fluttershy mumbled. “It’s just that Twinkleshine agreed to look after all my critters, and I had to make sure she knew just how much to feed them, and how often to play with them, and to make sure Angel doesn’t get into the cupboards, and. . .”

“Geez, we get it.” Rainbow Dash said with an exasperated moan.

“There there,” Rarity reassured her. “I’m certain Twinkleshine was the perfect choice. You’ll see. Everything will be just fine.”

Fluttershy smiled from beneath her mane. Her smile vanished, however, when she heard a faraway voice shout, “Dash!” Everyone seemed to hear it, and they looked around the train station in confusion.

Pinkie Pie thought to glance upwards, and she smiled in recognition. “Oh! This will be fun!” She took a couple of steps back from Rainbow Dash, a look of glee and anticipation on her face.

Rainbow Dash glanced upwards, and her eyes widened in shock as a grey pegasus javelined out of the sky and enveloped her in what might be described as an ‘impact hug.’ Fluttershy squeaked and leapt out of the way. Pinkie Pie literally fell over laughing. The pair tumbled across the train platform and into a bench. A dazed Rainbow Dash picked herself up. “Wow. Take it down a notch, Der—ooff!” The yellow-maned mare enveloped Rainbow Dash in a bear hug.

“Are you leaving, Rainbow Dash?” She asked.

“Yeah.” Rainbow Dash glanced at her friends. “Yeah, I’m leaving for awhile.” The grey mare threw herself into another hug. “But I’ll be back soon enough. We all will.”

“Don’t go, Rainbow Dash.” She sounded like she was crying.

Rainbow Dash pushed her back to arm’s length. “Hey, hey, stop that. We will be. . . we’ll probably be just fine. Besides, my friends need me.” The grey mare’s dandelion-colored eyes were full of tears. Also, they were a bit crossed. Dash continued. “Ok, here’s the deal. While I’m away, I need you to look after Ponyville for me, you got that? Somepony has to take care of my town, and I can’t think of anypony better than you. You make sure everypony is being good. Can you do that for me? Please?”

The grey mare thought for a moment, and then nodded and smiled. “Ok. You be careful Rainbow Dash.” Then she turned and trotted away. When she didn’t think anyone was looking, Rainbow Dash wiped at a corner of her eye. Then she trotted over and scooped her bags onto her back.

Twilight spoke up. “Well, this is it. Is everypony ready to go?” Twilight spoke lightly, but it was a weighted question. The friends glanced at one another, and then they all nodded. Even Fluttershy.

They gathered up their bags and boarded the train. Twilight glanced back over her shoulder at Ponyville. Of course she’d get to see it again. Right?

The rhythmic click-clacking of the train gliding down the tracks had nearly lulled Twilight Sparkle to sleep as she leaned her head against the window. The morning sun was no longer shining through Twilight’s eyelids, but she was still aware of her friends around her. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were playing a game against Rainbow Dash and Spike, and they seemed to be losing. Rarity spoke with a waiter while Applejack studied a menu.

“ So.” Rarity was saying. “Are you saying all of these dandelion flatbreads are wood-fired?”

“Yes ma’am.” The tawny waiter nodded. “We have a stove in the prep car we can stock with hickory or maple, at your request. Most everything served warm can be cooked over the wood of your choice.”

“And these dipping oils?” Rarity pressed.

“We actually have 17 different flavors.” He said proudly. “Four of them aren’t even on the menu yet.”

“Goll-ly.” Applejack said. “This train’s got more food than most of Ponyville. There’re almost too many options.”

“Well.” Rarity glanced around the train at her friends. “We will simply have to sample them all before we decide, wont we? You can do that, can’t you?”

“Right away.” He turned and trotted towards the front of the car, opened the door and let himself through. The sounds of the train grew louder for a moment, and then grew muffled again.

Rarity waited until he left the car, then she practically squealed with delight, throwing herself across a velvet cushion. “Oh, this is so wonderful! I’ve never travelled in such style before.” She sat up and looked at the game going on in the corner. “Anypony care to join Applejack and I in sampling this food?”

Rainbow Dash didn’t stop studying the game board. “Absolutely. I’m starving. Just give us one more minute.” She made a couple of adjustments to the game pieces. “Ok, I build a bridge here and move three ponies across the river.”

“Hey!” Pinkie Pie looked worried. “You surrounded my castle!”

Rainbow Dash looked smug. “And that’s the game!”

Spike looked wistfully at some cards in his hands. “Awww, I didn’t even get to play my blizzard spell.”

“So you had the blizzard card this whole time.” Pinkie Pie noted.

Fluttershy whispered, “Oh, you can still play it if you want to. I don’t mind.”

Spike sighed and set his cards down. “That’s ok. I’m feeling hungry too.”

Pinkie Pie bounced into the center aisle of the train car. “Well, I want to play another round while snacking! Who’s up for a game of Castle Canterlot?”

“I’ll play, dear.” Rarity offered. “Although you may have to refresh me on the rules. It’s been awhile since Sweetie Belle first showed me how to play.”

“I’d love ta play a round.” Applejack spoke up. “But I’d rather wait ‘til after I’ve eaten, if it’s all the same to you ponies.”

“Maybe Twilight would like to play!” Pinkie Pie said.

“I don’t know.” Rainbow Dash shook her head. “I think she’s asleep.”

Spike shook his head. “I’m not surprised. I don’t think she slept at all last night. And she got me up super early this morning to help her double-check the checklist she made to double-check her checklist.” Spike sighed deeply.

Rainbow dash, Applejack and Pinkie Pie laughed. Fluttershy scooped him up in her hooves. “Oh, but you’re still just a baby dragon. You need your sleep or you might get sick.”

“Enh.” Spike shrugged. “I’m kind of used to it by now. Mostly I just give Twilight a hard time about it out of habit.”

“Here’s an idea.” Applejack jumped to her feet. “Maybe if we keep her awake now, she’ll get a good night’s rest tonight. Get her sleep schedule back to somethin’ normal.”

“Darling, Twilight Sparkle is an adult.” Rarity pronounced it ah-dult. “There’s no need to treat her like a cranky newborn filly.”

“I’m not treatin’ her like anything!” Applejack stepped back, offended. “I’m offerin’ a solution to a problem.”

“Besides,” Rainbow dash added. “She’ll probably want to get in on some of this awesome-sounding food. She won’t thank us for letting her sleep through that.”

“I don’t know that we should wake her up.” Pinkie Pie wrapped an arm around Applejack and pulled her in close, then proceeded to whisper very, very loudly. “We’ve seen how she can get when she’s low on the old snoozaroos.” Pinkie Pie made a series of very accurate crazy-Twilight faces.

That seemed to resolve the dispute. Everyone exchanged worried glances and nodded in sage agreement. “I’m not asleep, and I can hear you.” Twilight Sparkle said into the quiet. Everyone froze. Twilight lifted her head and blinked, peering blearily out of the train window. “Hey, what is that?” She asked.

Pinkie Pie leapt atop Twilight’s back (‘OOOF!’) and squinted into the distance where the train was headed. “What is what now? You really need to be more specific when you ask a question.”

“Up ahead.” Twilight pointed from below the level of the window, being unable to see with Pinkie Pie standing on her. “Right there, right where we’re headed. Is that smoke?”

There was a horrible metallic shriek as all of the train’s emergency brakes activated at once, pitching everyone into the front of the train car. Twelve cushions, six packed bags, two paintings, a blanket, seven menus and half of a bucket of Pinkie Pie’s popcorn joined the six ponies and Spike in a jumble between the floor and the wall. Sparks flew up in a shower past every window of the train as the car shuddered and jumped a bit. Twilight was certain they would derail, and she put up a purple shield around her friends and the junk piled atop them. Thankfully the train stayed on the tracks, and eventually they shuddered to a stop. Applejack reached over and picked up her hat, revealing a startled and worried Fluttershy.

“Is everypony all right?” Applejack asked.

Pinkie Pie plucked game board pieces out of her mane. “I think so.”

Twilight dropped the shield and sagged in relief. Everyone began picking themselves up and dusting themselves off. Rarity reached over to pull the popcorn bucket off of Spike’s head. “Wait!” Spike’s voice was muffled, and it sounded like his mouth was full. “I’m almost done. Mfff. . . buttery. . .” Rarity recoiled. Rainbow Dash laughed. Twilight pried open the door, spilling cushions and game pieces out into the mid-afternoon sunlight.

“Come on you guys. We have to find out what happened.” Twilight stepped out and leapt down to the ground below. They were a fair way from the mountain range, and the surrounding rocky terrain teemed with conifers. The still air smelled softly of pine in the early-afternoon sun. She started a slow trot towards the engine. Her companions stepped out into the sunlight to follow her. Up ahead, a disaster had clearly taken place. Another train had jumped the tracks and broken train cars were strewn everywhere. Two of them had clearly been on fire and then been put out, and a huge column of smoke drifted into the still air.

The conductor leaned out of the window of the engine and called out to Twilight. “We need to find out if there’s anypony still in those cars!”

“We will.” Twilight answered. “Send anypony who wants to help.”

“Of course. Y’know, it’s a good thing there was so much smoke. Around this bend and behind those trees, we’d have never seen the wreck in time.” The conductor whistled through his teeth. “We got real lucky here today, real lucky.”

Twilight nodded in comprehension. “C’mon everypony.” Twilight turned her trot into a gallop. “I have a terrible feeling about this.”

“It’d be weird not to.” Applejack had grabbed a loop of rope from her pack and set it about her neck before disembarking. “I’ve never seen a train wreck before.”

“It’s worse than that.” Twilight slowed as they approached the first upended train car. “This must be the train Celestia was on.”

Rainbow Dash gasped and flew ahead to the nearest overturned railcar, a passenger car on its side across the tracks. She fought with the door, but it looked jammed. Rainbow Dash turned and kicked the door in, and then darted inside. Twilight called after her. “Dash, be careful!”

“Twilight, this is bad, isn’t it?” Applejack stopped scanning the wreck and began scanning the surrounding trees. “I mean like. . . bad bad, you know?”

Twilight nodded grimly. “I’ve never even heard of a train derailing anywhere in Equestria. At least not in my lifetime.” Twilight slowed as they reached the car Rainbow dash had disappeared into. “The history books mention this sort of thing, but only back when trains were still fairly new inventions.”

Pinkie Pie looked a bit upset. “So, you think somepony wanted this train to crash?”

Twilight Sparkle nodded. “DASH!” She shouted.

There was a small crash, as though some luggage was tossed aside, and Rainbow Dash reappeared. She flung herself down in front of Twilight in a fighting stance, crouched and ready for anything. After she glanced around and didn’t see a fight going on, she relaxed and rolled her eyes. “Geez Twilight, I expected a manticore at the least.”

Twilight took her friend by the face. “Dash, this might not be an accident. We need to keep checking the train cars for survivors, but we also need to stick together and be careful. We’ll follow and keep a lookout.”

Rainbow Dash nodded, and she continued to the next closest car, this one lying at a slant atop another car. She dove in, rummaged around a bit and flew back out, shaking her head. Three cars later, Rainbow Dash kicked in the door, only to be flung hard out of the doorway and into the top of the train car behind her by a bolt of magic. Applejack and Rarity galloped towards the train door with Twilight hard on their heels as Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie and Spike helped Rainbow Dash up. A stallion’s voice shouted from inside, “Hold your hoofin’ fire! For the love of berry tarts Trig, that might be a rescue party!”

Another voice, this one a bit high-strung. “I’m sorry, Stal.”

Applejack peeked into the open door and immediately dropped to the ground as another bolt of magic sailed out, taking the hat off her head flinging it behind them where it hit the dent Rainbow Dash made in the train car, and then landed neatly on Rainbow Dash’s head.

“Trig! Oh, for the love of Celestia. . .” There were scuffling sounds from inside the train car. “Just stay here and don’t do anything, you understand? Don’t. Do. Anthing.” A moment later, a black pony appeared wearing a helmet emblazoned with Princess Celestia’s cutie mark. A personal bodyguard.

Rainbow Dash was unimpressed. She stalked forward menacingly, still wearing the cowboy hat. “Hey! Nopony fires at my friends!” Pinkie Pie grabbed her by the tail and held her back.

The pony who must have been Stal held up his hooves. “Woah, take it easy there killer. Was anypony hurt?”

Twilight glanced at Rainbow Dash and rolled her eyes. “I think it’s fair to say we’re fine. What about you? What happened here?”

Stal glanced around suspiciously then looked back to Twilight. “The Princess told us you would be the first ones to show up. Are you Twilight Sparkle?” Twilight nodded. “Ok then,” He continued, “Before you come any closer tell me this. How big was Spike when he was hatched?”

Twilight felt as though the bottom of her stomach had been filled with sand. Changelings. Of course. She heard Fluttershy gasp; she’d figured it out too. Oh, things certainly were ‘bad bad’ as Applejack noted, but it was worse than that. Celestia either wasn’t here, or was hurt pretty badly. Otherwise she’d be able to verify their identities herself. Twilight answered. “I’d say he was about fifty feet tall.”

“WHAT?!?” Spike looked stunned.

Stal nodded in relief. “It’s good to meet you. I’m Stalwart. My partner in there is Hair Trigger. You’ll have to forgive him, he’s kind of shaken up. We have three injured, four unharmed and the two of us. Thanks to the Princess, we didn’t lose anypony.”

Twilight thought she had it figured out. “And Celestia figured the accident was caused by changelings. So she left her bodyguards to look after the injured, probably told you two to get everypony onto the next train scheduled through here, which she would have known would be the train she sent to pick us all up.” Twilight glanced behind her. “She probably knew that this curve would make us certain to crash into your derailed train, so she set fire to those two train cars in the hopes that the smoke would give our conductor enough warning to stop in time. The Princess must not be here, or she would have come out to verify our identities for herself. The only thing I can’t figure out is why she left when there were injured ponies here.”

Everypony looked impressed with Twilight or worried about the situation. Stalwart looked very impressed. “Wow! I mean, she said you were smart, but that’s incredible! All I know is that the Princess headed north into the woods after making sure everypony would be alright. She insisted she go alone, but she left us specific instructions. She wants all seven of you to follow her. She said that you would know how to get in touch with her, and to hurry.”

Twilight nodded, her face growing determined. “Ok. Applejack, I need you, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie to go back to the other train and gather up all our stuff. Anything we can carry through the woods. And make sure to grab a quill, ink and some parchment for Spike. Spike, get a message to Celestia right away. Tell her where we are, and ask for instructions.”

“You got it, sugarcube.” Applejack snagged her hat back off of Rainbow Dash’s head and put it on. “C’mon Spike, girls. Let’s shake a leg.”

“I was how big when I hatched?” Applejack dragged Spike away by the tail.

Twilight stepped toward Stalwart a bit, then pounced on the larger pony, her horn glowing a bright purple. “Hey!” He shouted. Twilight concentrated for a bit, then relaxed and stepped back. He was unchanged.

“I’m sorry.” She explained sheepishly. “I just had to make sure you are what you look like.”

“Oh, I get it.” Stalwart brushed himself off. “But maybe you could just ask next time. That is one intensely uncomfortable sensation.”

Twilight shrugged. “Rainbow Dash, Rarity, I’d like you two to help Stalwart here move the injured onto our train.”

“Of course, Twilight.” Rarity said.

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “Sure, if this guy’s friend in there will let us get in the door.”

Stalwart rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. “I’ll go see to him.” He turned back to Twilight. “In the meantime, what are you going to do?”

Twilight looked around at the dozen or so train cars strewn about the tracks. Only six of them looked like they were blocking the tracks. “Since I’m not sure how well trains move in reverse, I’m going to try and clear the tracks to let you all through.”

Stalwart eyed her skeptically. “Are you going to want a hoof with that?”

Twilight sighed heavily. “Honestly, I might. I’ll let you know.”

Within a couple of minutes, Rainbow Dash and Rarity walked by with the conductor stretched across their backs, followed by a pair of serving staff carrying another injured staff member. Stalwart and Hair Trigger followed carrying the third injured pony. The other survivors trudged by while Twilight lifted the first train car with her purple magic and shoved it off the tracks. Then she lifted another. Some of the ponies stopped to watch. Twilight struggled to lift the third, but she planted her hooves and leaned forward, and the train car moved. She had trouble lifting the fourth, so she just shoved it roughly off the tracks, scraping it along the ground. As she tried to lift the fifth she felt other unicorns adding their strength to hers, and it moved easily. The last one was the engine, and it was much heavier than the others. Even with help, she could barely lift it. It moved in small increments and seemed to take forever, but eventually it tumbled clear.

Twilight opened her eyes, breathing heavily, and looked around. Two unicorns from the wreck and Stalwart had stopped to help her with the heavy lifting, and all three looked exhausted. One unicorn, dressed as a waiter, collapsed to the dirt. Even Stalwart was gasping for breath. Twilight smiled at them, feeling quite proud despite herself. She trotted off in search of her friends. “Thanks for the help, everypony.”

Stalwart slowly shook his head at her in wonder. “Woah. . .”

Twilight Sparkle found her friends gathered around their train, their packs set out neatly. She noticed Spike was holding a scroll. “Here Twilight,” He said. “I got a response already. Read it.”

Twilight felt magically exhausted, so she picked up the scroll with her hooves and laid it out on the ground. “Hey, this looks like a map. See, this x she drew must be the crash, and this arrow shows where she’s gone. Well, I guess we have a direction.” She glanced at the bottom of the map and gasped in horror. “She says they’ve taken the Elements of Harmony.”

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